Sunday, May 24, 2009

In case you were wondering. . .


Should I believe in God? Does this matter? I somehow need to return to my previous ethical core in so far as the God question is concerned; the only thing is to live in a way that, God or not, you can die unashamed.

How much other Marx is there that supports my idea that a re-conceptualization of the working class is one of the fundamental problems—maybe the fundamental problem—of modern Marxist theory? Also, what exactly does Marx mean by intercourse? And is this idea of self-activity explored in detail anywhere else? And how does this relate to Nietzsche?

Are the pre-socratics simply full of bullshit, or am I unable to appreciate them due to my lack of perspective? Also, is there some radical insight about the human brain to be had from the fact that they, like modern physics, consider the universe to be composed of a single changeable thing? Maybe this is just a misreading of modern physics? From my interactions with physicists, they do seem to have a much clearer understanding that everything they do is a guess than everybody else does. . . (by “the pre-socratics” I mean Thales, and maybe Anaximander. . I have just started.) I am wary of Occam's razor. . .

What things should I value? If I can answer this from myself it will then conveniently cover the question of “which things do I value?” as well, of course. . . I can tell you which things I like, but—and this grows out of a lot of recent conversations with Greg—if you just chase what you like, what you want, you are nothing but hunger. It is only by will and consciousness that we might become more than pure figments of nature. If I behaved in a way to make the things I like generally easier to get, it would certainly look ethical, but ultimately it's just self-interest. Maybe I'm ranging towards hedonism. Maybe that's ok.

Relatedly--

How does one place appropriate value on other people without getting screwed over by them?

There's a distinction that a lot of people will make, but few with any kind of clarity, between different kinds of pleasure. John Stewart Mill points out that people happiness is better than pig happiness, but nowhere that I'm aware of does he discuss, in detail, exactly why. What I'm even more interested in is the difference—if there is one—between the satisfaction that comes from satisfying a basic hunger (food, books, sex) and an ethical one (say. . . justice. For people who aren't you.) If you want justice more than you want food, you aren't giving anything up by devoting your life to justice. In this context is the pursuit of justice any different from hedonism?

Unrelatedly, I just have to say this; Marx is amazing. More on that later.


Anyway. . . so it's lonely in here, but not too unstable. The main thing I've been feeling for the first little bit is this tremendous sense of control over my time. . . and also a sort of faint underlaying current of terror.

What an excellent start. :)

7 comments:

SAC said...

Much to wade in to here, but I'll only start on the pre-socratics and ponder on the rest from there.

In my opinion, they probably did have something substantive to say, but we don't know what it was. We know who they were largely because we know who reacted to them; but we only have fragments, not whole arguments, so there's no real way to evaluate them.

Um, ok, so wading a little deeper here... I do believe that Kant had some of the same thought process about doing good stuff because it is in your self-interest, and this is what led him to say that the very best possible kind of thing to do is good stuff that you don't really want to do. Now, I like Mr. Kant (as Meg and I are wont to fondly refer to him), but I disagree with him on this point.

I believe that a little dash of Aristotle and the insertion of individual change over time makes the issue clearer.

This is how. Our Friend Mr. Aristotle felt that since everyone wants stuff-- that's part of the basic package of being a human being-- then people should be trained from a young age to like doing good stuff. (You undoubtedly know this, but I'm constructing an argument here in my own sort of long way, which should probably never be employed in "comment" sections since it is so long. Sorry.) So, if you are a moral person, then you will not only hopefully have been taught from a young age to enjoy things like picking up after yourself and helping little old ladies across the street, but (now departing from Aristotle, as far as I know, which isn't much) you will also be constantly training your own desires, pruning the ones that lead to not-good ends, and encouraging the ones lead to moral ends; and at the same time monitoring your actions. Thus, even if a moral action doesn't particularly fit your whim at a given moment, your overriding desire to be a moral person leads you to act against whim but for long-term desire. Maybe Aristotle didn't say that about every human having desires, and that being part of being human. But Hume certainly did, and I agree with him, and I do realize that this is controversial, but let's go with it for the moment.

Now, where were we? Ah, right, change over time. My personal belief is that the most moral person is the one who is constantly working both on the desires side and on the actions side to make both their actions and their characters become in line with what they know of the truth. Thus, whether or not you wanted to do a particular moral action at the particular time you did it isn't as relevant as the general trend-- the change over time in how your actions and your knowledge (which, of course, you also have to work to increase) match up.

Speaking of helping little old ladies across the street, I am very curious to see the new Pixar movie, UP. (There is a boy scout in the preview, which preview I found to be very amusing.) I'll have to see when it comes to the dollar theater here. Or something. Here's hoping that it will help me in my end goal of training my desires to like doing moral things.

___________________________ said...

Well, if "the only thing is to live in a way that, God or not, you can die unashamed." Then either a lot of people lose a lot by making the God question a question, or being false on the God question is a matter of great shame. I either would have to side with the latter claim, or disagree with your own claim, as I do think it is a meaningful question.

I don't know much about those two. I would imagine that their ways of thinking would seem ridiculous though, and that is probably because we do know a lot more than them. No, no radical insight that I can think of, as anything derived from a greek philosopher that early on is quite possibly BS. In any case, a significant reason for non-dualism today is that the brain is seen as impacting the mind a lot, but mental properties are clearly not physical properties, so to go to materialism too quickly seems to be a leap.

"What things should I value?" is the deepest philosophical question. The interesting thing is that this question posits an absolute in the term "should", and so it cuts deeper than "which things do I value?". I find the additional elements of the musing interesting, as it is sort of humanist in that it puts human beings in a separate category than nature. When I think of this question, I am often drawn to thinkers like Max Stirner and Marquis de Sade who both hold man to be a hunger(Stirner's egoist, Sade's sadism), and attempts to transcend this nature to be foolish.(I just find them more interesting)

I don't know... that's a very difficult question.

I actually cannot answer that question. Here are the issues:
1) I cannot figure out what comprises justice. I mean, we all have intuitions of what justice means, but how can these intuitions in the head be universalized? I mean, there must be some essence to latch onto in order to even start. I suppose if there isn't an essence to justice that can consume our will, then we could then rest in an affection for man and have that consume us. If there are no essences though, then how can egoism be escaped? I don't think it can, and in that I think that Stirner's egoism tends to emerge.
2) The issue you specifically bring up. However, I think SAC has addressed this in sufficient detail.

You'll have to tell me what Marx stuff to read. I suppose I should read "The German Ideology".

HA HA! Interesting. I think the month of summer might by itself make me depressed.

I’m happy to note that SAC beat me in word count. Makes me feel better about myself.

Day said...

Oh My.

Well, thank you both. I wasn't actually expecting to get any input, and it's rather a nice surprise. . . though, in the case of __________________, I really should have known better. :) I'll try to address both of you in the order of my original entry.


As far as the God question; you have a point. I believe for the most part those who make God a question have

a) less hubris than myself
and/or
b) less anger towards God, should s/he exist, than myself.

As far as I'm aware I have no particular reason to believe in God, and many to believe that if God exists s/he is. . . well. . . the bad guys. If there's something that God wants me to know but isn't telling me, that's her bad.


As for which Marx to read; I found the German Ideology to be very excellent on the first time through, and the first part apparently (according to the Marxist Leninist Institute of Moscow) does a nice job of outlining all the basic ideas. It's also only 50 pages, albeit dense ones. Here's the best part. People say Marx is dry, but in this piece, at least, I completely don't see it. Even though it's dense, large sections of it absolutely Reek of sarcasm.

He's not a fan of the German Ideologists.


Update on the pre-socratics; I haven't even finished the excerpts I have, but I definitely want to read more Pythagorous. In so far as we have more Pythagorous. *sigh.*

Also, I worry that I'm not getting all the nuance I'll need when I tackle Nietzsche, Heidegger, etc.--in which realm they are apparently important.


As for my humanist (?) musings on desire, I guess I should clarify a couple things.

First, I've not read on the subject of free will, but I believe what I'm working from is a roughly compatibalist standpoint; in this case, meaning that people are in a different category from nature--when they choose to make themselves in a different category from nature. As far as I can tell, few people do.

Second, the question thing here is how to form meaningful distinctions between one's desires. As you've pointed out, Kant's conclusion that it's not virtuous if you're having fun is not a solution to this question. Perhaps I misunderstand Aristotle here, but I don't really see a solution in his work either.

There are a couple of things that I've found frustrating in my cursory and fragmented readings of Aristotle. . . possibly they are the same thing. First, I feel that his conclusion that men are made for happiness (that was him, right?) is far from self evident—particularly in light of the fact that meaningful gradations of pleasure, or happiness, aren't easier to come up with than meaningful gradations of desire. Second, arising from this, the question of which ends one should be aiming for is, also, far from self-evident. What you (he?) describe/s seems more like a recipe for achieving ethical status, once one has determined what that would be.

In a perfect world this brings us back to God, but she appears to have PMS.


Anyway, I hope your summer gets less depressed? I think? And I'm glad you feed good about talking to me less than my big sister. ;)

*waves to SAC and any lurkers. :)*

that's all.


P.S. If anyone has suggestions on what I should be reading to deal with these particular philosophical questions, I'd love to hear them. :)

___________________________ said...

Well, I'd think that your dismissal of the God question is more a matter of you having effectively answered it. You are certain that you are right, and the agony of the world can only bring doubt upon such a belief.

I know, the German Ideology is him attacking Max Stirner, Bruno Bauer, and Ludwig Feuerbach. I should read that then. Ok, that should be one of the works of his I read.

Hmm.... ok, makes sense.

Well, I wasn't arguing that you were a libertarian(metaphysically). I merely meant "humanist" in that you elevated people to a higher ground, or at least admitted to the possibility, a possibility denied to most other things.

You are absolutely right about the problems with the virtue ethics solution though, and I have to agree with your criticism. In any case, that leaves you with your problems I suppose.

Well, I think I was in rather regretful funk yesterday. Maybe today will be better. Well, your sister acted as if it was a problem to write at such length in your comments section, so if I write less then that must be a good thing.

As for reading? Hmm.... I think I have problems adding to your musings(once you've explained everything), so I don't know what you should read to add to your knowledge.

Day said...

First, I wasn't intending to be unhelpful with the Marx suggestion; I really haven't read all that much of his work. The obvious things to read, of course, are Das Capital and the Communist Manifesto; with my current background, the only thing I can really suggest outside of that is the German Ideology, although I'm sure in the next couple of months that will change. Critique of German Ideology does explain a startling lot about Marxists.


Secondly, I think you dramatically misread my anti-theism. If there is a God, and God is Not the bad guy, then my own sense of justice, right, virtue--such as it is--is Entirely Worthless. I've chosen to bet on my internal compass over the puzzle of divine guidance, and regardless of what Richard Dawkins might have to say about it, that's hardly a risk-free proposition.

In the literal sense I'm agnostic; for me the question of whether to believe in God is not about the actual existence of God (which, as far as I can tell, Can't be proven either way) but rather about what is the best way to live my life-- believing or not.

In general I choose not to believe, because I find believing lends it's self to ignoring eminent ethical issues in favor of chasing unsolvable problems.


Thirdly, what do you mean by a "metaphysical libertarian?"


Fourth, thanks again. :)

___________________________ said...

I never said you were unhelpful.

Hmm.... well, I suppose I could be misreading your anti-theism, however, the issue is that hell isn't supposed to be the only issue with God, as the spiritual experience is also supposed to be of great benefit as well.

Metaphysical libertarian? Well, libertarianism not only refers to a set of political doctrines, but also the stance that people have a free will that is not forced by necessity to any particular conclusion. What we typically consider "free will". So, if you think that there is a "you" that chooses what you do without being forced to make that choice by some law of physics, then you are a libertarian in the metaphysical sense.

You'd better give me the thanks I deserve! ;-)

Logan said...

How does one place appropriate value on other people without getting screwed over by them?

One does not. Rather, "one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals."

People you value might not screw you over, but then circumstances will. So though the only 'winning' move is not to play, the only human move is to play and lose.